Exclusive: Stoffel Vandoorne, finally on his way to the world title
With a 36-point lead over his closest rival Mitch Evans, Stoffel Vandoorne can no longer miss the Formula E title. The 30-year-old Belgian, a former Formula 1 active for McLaren, has built a life in the electric world after her move to the premier class and is set to crown her with a world championship title.
By: Rene Oudman
If Vandoorne does indeed become champion, then it will – don’t worry – just the first time in seven years that the resident of Roeselare (West Flanders) decides a title fight in his favor. A long time for someone with the status of Vandoorne, a rider who has won one title after another in the junior categories. On the eve of what could become his moment of glory, F1Maximum exclusively with the Belgian driver.
Life is good at Mercedes, the team whose colors Vandoorne has been defending for three seasons now. Together with his Dutch colleague Nyck de Vries three years his junior, the former Formula 1 driver is in a position to compete for the top spots in the Formula E field. In addition, Vandoorne will have plenty of room to develop in difficult conditions. sports car categories such as WEC and IMSA. Plus, wisdom seems to come with age – so Vandoorne, who recently celebrated her 30th birthday, should have plenty of new knowledge on her hands.
“Haha, that’s pretty good, to be honest,” the Formula E championship leader scoffs at life in his 30s. “It’s still the same as when I was in my early twenties. Anyone who’s about to turn thirty has nothing to worry about,” laughs Vandoorne. On a more serious note: Did he still a little afraid of the title?
“Yeah, gosh – everyone is talking about it now, of course. This is normal at this time of year, because at the start of the season the fight for the title does not yet play a role. After the more difficult time I went through, it’s a nice feeling to be able to fight for a championship again this year.
From Formula 1 to Formula E
The Formula 1 enthusiast will undoubtedly remember it. Vandoorne entered the premier class as a big promise, in fact: on his racing debut, replacing the injured Fernando Alonso, he immediately scored a point in a semi-competitive McLaren. As a full-time rider for the British team, Vandoorne encountered many problems. The Honda engine proved horribly unreliable and the team relied heavily on the judgment of teammate Alonso. A handful of points finishes and two sixteenths overall proved to be Vandoorne’s share, before he was replaced by McLaren favorite Lando Norris.
It was difficult for Vandoorne to change. While he was promoted to Formula 1 as GP2 champion, winner of races in highly competitive categories such as Super Formula and Formula Renault 3.5 and versatile speed driver, he had to wait patiently, especially in 2017, how the material did not allow him to pass the last race of the premier class to get to the starting line.
“When I made my debut in Formula 1, recalls Vandoorne, I had just won a few championships. Suddenly I found myself in a car that was struggling to get into the top ten. He needs a whole other state of mind only when you have chances to constantly fight for podiums, victories and titles. It was, especially in the beginning, very difficult. The motivation had to change. This turning point is different for everyone, but for me it happened around the summer break of 2017. After all, the second part of this year was good.
corresponds to the relaxed Formula E culture better with the Belgian driver? “The media attention is of course different here, less than in Formula 1. But the biggest difference is with the cars. Formula E cars are much closer together. Pure talent can make the difference here. Ok, there is a certain difference in the cars because each team has carte blanche on specific points, but much less than in Formula 1.
Vandoorne had time to get used to it. Three weeks after his last Formula 1 race, he drove his first ePrix in Formula E – at the time for HWA Racelab, the hasty predecessor of the Mercedes factory team, to reward the flying hours of mechanics and technicians. pilots. That first season turned out to be mostly a season of trial and error, with just one podium finish in Rome being the highlight.
Vandoorne took steps forward as Mercedes’ involvement increased. Think about it: In its second full season, which was hit hard by the pandemic and therefore concluded with a ‘sixfold header at the former Tempelhof airport in Berlin, Vandoorne concluded the season with a victory and a fine second place in the final standings. Last season his teammate De Vries became champion and this year the Belgian himself is in the spotlight.
“As we all know, during my time in Formula 1, I had no chance to get involved in the title fight. That title opportunity went to Mercedes in Formula E. The first year was a year learning opportunities for everyone,” admits Vandoorne. After all, it was a brand new team. In the first Mercedes year I finished second to Antonio (Felix da Costa, RO), but then I wasn’t really in the title fight – Antonio dominated. Now it’s different”, underlines the Belgian, Mercedes has been at the helm for two seasons in Formula E. “We’ll see how it goes”, he maintains the tension.
Well, Vandoorne can compete for the Formula E world championship and has the best papers. It’s a good thing for our neighbors to the south, who are a bit slow compared to their Dutch competitors. While Dutch racing drivers now play an important role in various racing classes, the Belgians – with the exception of Vandoorne – are invisible. What is the reason for this?
“It’s very difficult to explain, because it’s true that we currently don’t have anyone following in my footsteps,” the Mercedes driver tries to explain with a neat Flemish phrase. “In karting, there are some Belgian guys who have a lot of potential, but of course we have to wait a few more years to find out how it will go for them. Bottom line, this sport costs more money every year. It is more difficult for normal families to start, only a selected number of people can participate.
Vandoorne himself knows all this. In his early years on the go-kart track, there wasn’t enough money to drive full championships. As a young boy, he depended on the generosity of others. Vandoorne has already received a kart from the owner of the kart track. Should the Belgian automobile federation, the counterpart of what the KNAF is here – namely the RACB – go a step further?
“Honestly: the RACB already does a lot of things compared to other federations. They paid me a lot after my transition from karting to motorsport. There was a lot of sponsorship,” Vandoorne said referring to the fact that RACB logos were displayed on his car from Formula 4 to the GP2 series. “There was a complete structure around me. They are now trying to do so, but if there is not a lot of talent, it is less easy to help. Of course, they want to be sure of their investment.
Is there no Max effect in Belgium? After all, Verstappen’s mother is Belgian, so called, the Formula 1 world champion was even born in Hasselt and lived in Maaseik during his childhood. “Hard to say,” Vandoorne chews on that question. “It’s true that Max also has a huge effect on young children in Belgium, probably because of that Belgian one.” rootsbut everything is like that out of control because of these budgets. This is really the biggest difference from the past.
In fact, Amaury Cordeel, the highly acclaimed Dutch Van Amersfoort Racing Formula 2 driver, is the only other top Belgian in the single seater. “Actually, I don’t know Amaury at all,” admits Vandoorne when asked if the F2 driver has ever had coffee with his predecessor – because, GP2 champion. “I know the Cordeel family a bit and I’m still F2, but Amaury is not someone I have contact with. He never contacted me either. I’m not responsible for his results ‘, Vandoorne refers to his compatriot’s disappointing performance, ‘but if he wants help, I’m always ready’.
Together in Dakar
As long as there are no Belgian fans, it’s good to have Dutch people around, believes the Formula E championship contender. In De Vries, Vandoorne has a teammate he can talk to in his mother tongue and Mercedes’ press officer is also Dutch. “It makes it a bit more personal, also within our team. Almost everyone speaks English, but you can say things through Dutch without everyone noticing,” claims Vandoorne.
Where De Vries has now completed a few free practice sessions in F1, Vandoorne is conspicuously absent. ‘Nyck can of course do it because of the young driverrule’, the Belgian points out that he himself has competed in more than two Grands Prix. “In the end my role is exactly the same, however Nyck did a few more Grands Prix at the start of this year as a Mercedes reserve and I’m taking on a lot of that in the second half of the season. crazy bits
for my bill.
Formula 1, Formula E – even Super Formula in Japan, an IndyCar test in the USA and racing in different endurance classes – is there anything missing from Vandoorne’s CV, is- is there a list of things the Belgian driver still has to do? to do in motorsport? Is he arriving, like his former teammate Alonso, in Dakar? ‘Haha, no, it’s not for me right now,’ laughs Vandoorne, when De Vries seated next to him joins in the conversation. “In twenty years, we will go to Dakar together! “laughs the Dutchman. Vandoorne continues: “I absolutely want to fight for a victory at Le Mans. But for now, the focus is on the Formula E title,” he concluded combatively.
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